A conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) — or even an impaired driving charge that doesn't end in a conviction — can negatively impact your career. This is especially true if you have a commercial driver's license (CDL) or are required to drive as part of your job.
An employer can choose to conduct background checks on current or prospective employees for any number of reasons. Some of these reasons are more valid and legal than others. Depending on how a background check is conducted, it might expose a DUI charge or conviction. The limits of an employer's ability to perform these checks are governed mostly by state laws. The same is true for whether a DUI offense can be considered in a hiring or firing decision.
This article discusses federal restrictions on background checks. It also addresses state laws governing background checks. There's additional discussion around how background checks are conducted and how to clear a background check.
Federal Restrictions on Background Checks
All states are subject to Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) provisions. This federal law applies to checks performed by outside background check companies. It doesn't apply to checks conducted in-house.
The FCRA prohibits the reporting of criminal arrests after seven years. However, criminal convictions can be reported indefinitely. This includes DUI and driving while intoxicated (DWI) convictions. Reporting restrictions imposed by the FCRA only apply to jobs with a yearly salary of $75,000 or less.
Federal courts have often ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from barring the employment of people with convictions absent a compelling business reason. Still, this interpretation of the Civil Rights Act conflicts with some state laws. Most applicants cannot know what goes on behind the scenes when they apply for a job.
State Laws Governing Background Checks
Most states allow employers to refuse employment to anyone with a conviction record. Many states even allow employers to refuse applicants with an arrest record. This is mainly due to a lack of regulations in this area.
At least 14 states have legal standards requiring an employer to prove the job relevance of a given conviction. This includes Colorado, Florida, Kansas, and New York. Only Hawaii, Kansas, New York, and Wisconsin apply these regulations to private employers.
California and eight other states offer certificates of rehabilitation for employment purposes for those convicted of a DUI or other crimes. This lifts some barriers to employment. California Labor Code 432.7 prohibits employers from asking about an arrest that didn't result in a conviction. In California, if you complete probation for a driving under the influence (DUI) conviction, you can file a motion to withdraw your plea or set aside the verdict. Your records will show that the case was dismissed.
Those running for public office or applying for a professional license must disclose a DUI or other conviction from the past 10 years. The same is true for direct questions on an application regarding criminal conviction.
More State Laws Governing Background Checks
Most states require criminal background checks for certain types of jobs. This includes anyone working with children, older adults, or people with disabilities. This doesn't necessarily mean a DUI record will preclude an applicant from consideration. It could factor into an employer's hiring decision as a perceived character flaw.
Many state and federal jobs require a pre-employment background check. This may depend on the kind of job, such as one requiring a security clearance.
Commercial drivers convicted of driving under the influence while on the job or in their personal vehicle are prohibited from driving in a professional capacity for a set period. As of 1999, convictions for major violations committed in a commercial vehicle (including a DUI) remain on a CDL record for 55 years.
How Background Checks Are Conducted
Background checks can be requested from law enforcement agencies or outside companies. An official background check may include roughly 20 different types of information. These may include:
- Driving records, including traffic violations
- Vehicle registration
- Criminal records and criminal history
- Court records, including misdemeanor convictions
- Character references
- Neighbor interviews
- Incarceration records
Some of this information can be gleaned from a pre-employment questionnaire or a job application. Most questions are limited to whether an applicant has committed a felony. Some states allow broader questions about past charges for criminal offenses.
As a rule of thumb, it's usually best to tell the truth during the hiring process. Potential employers may overlook the admittance of a DUI offense. However, being caught in a lie usually removes you from consideration for a job and limits employment opportunities.
The internet is a powerful tool for more informal background checks of job candidates. Sources of information include online public records and social networking sites. For example, an increasing percentage of employers admit to using Facebook to review job candidates. Information about a DUI arrest that otherwise might not show up sometimes comes to light. In this way, an applicant who doesn't consent to a background check may be subject to one without knowing.
For more information on employment background checks, see FindLaw's resources on how employers should perform an employee background check.
Clearing Your DUI Record
A DUI offender can sometimes choose to expunge their record. Expungement is a court-ordered process that effectively seals a record of arrest or criminal conviction.
Many states limit expungement to arrests that don't result in a conviction. The charge or conviction isn't completely erased. Instead, it is sealed for most purposes, including employment-related background checks. For more information about expungement, see FindLaw's resources on expungement.
Talk to an Attorney About DUI and Employment Background Checks
Most attorneys specializing in drunk driving cases can guide their clients about employment background checks and their effect on future employment. Did a DUI show up on a background check? Do you have questions about the specifics of your DUI case? Consult with a local DUI lawyer. A criminal defense DUI attorney can help you with your criminal charges and DUI defense. An experienced defense lawyer can also assist you with a license suspension related to a DUI conviction.